KANSAS CITY - The questioner on Saturday was trying to be nice, but there was a patronizing undertone. It is common at this time of the year, when a 13-seed like La Salle starts to make a run. People don't mean anything by it, but the whole narrative just sometimes works better with the addition of a soupcon of Cinderella.

But John Giannini was having none of it, as nicely as he could. His team won two games in the NCAA Tournament and the Explorers' coach said the result was "normal" and "rational" for a team that has won as many games and fared as well in the Atlantic 10 as La Salle has.

"We have no self-esteem issues," Giannini said, with a smile.

And now?

Don't even think about it. This is not Cinderella. This is a basketball team that wins with speed and skill but mostly with gumption. This is a La Salle basketball team that is headed for the Sweet 16 because, for the second straight game, it won the end-game, the toughness game.

The Explorers are headed to Los Angeles for a West Regional semifinal game on Thursday night against Wichita State. They are headed to a place the Explorers have not been since the mid-'50s.

And what did the rollout say, the rollout that was unfurled in the Sprint Center as the Explorers jumped and danced and celebrated their 76-74 win over Mississippi State?

Oh, yes:

You can't spell La Salle without LA

"What a great win," Giannini said. "What a great weekend over here. We couldn't be more proud. I know La Salle is very proud of these guys. We talked all week about the great La Salle tradition. When you come in, you want to bring that back. These guys are doing it, right before our eyes."

They did it because of this play at the end: Tyreek Duren dribbling down the clock on the game's final possession, and then beginning the play that ended up with Tyrone Garland attacking the rim and scoring with 2.5 seconds remaining on a shot he would dub after the game as "The Southwest Philly Floater."

As it turns out, they will ride it to the City of Angels.

And they did it again in Kansas City. This is where the Explorers won their NCAA championship in 1954, in the art deco Municipal Auditorium. They played in the championship game in 1955 in the same building. Today, it is a place that hosts roller derbies.

So, 1954-55 and 2013. In time, the events are separated by 50-something years; in distance, by not even five city blocks.

One is obviously much bigger than the other. But that cannot diminish what the Explorers did here. Even though they believed that their program has been headed in the right direction for a few years, and even though they had the tangible reward of an NIT bid following last season, there is nothing like the public validation that a trip to the NCAA Tournament brings to a program like La Salle's.

And then, when you not only get into the tournament but hang around for a while, well, the validation just multiplies.

Still, the Cinderella thing haunts. It came up again after the game Sunday night. Giannini, to his credit, just will not go there.

"We expect to have another tough game and have a chance to win if we prepare well," he said. "No more or less than that.

"We were talking earlier, what people label us. We really try not to acknowledge it.

"If going into next year, people talk about how great we're going to be, we're not going to listen. We just don't listen. We care about basketball and we care about preparing and that's how we'll go into this weekend and next year. The external stuff really doesn't matter to us. Winning games matters a lot. What someone writes or says doesn't mean a lot, quite frankly."

What means a lot is the ending. What decided this game was the Southwest Philly Floater, a final bit of redemption for Garland, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:33 remaining and the Explorers trailing by two.

"They are tough," Giannini said. "They are together. Frankly, that's why we're here."

And now we are left with a few days between games to search for perspective. Sweet perspective.

Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

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